What constitutes ‘reasonable force’?

Should the law be changed to allow householders to fully defend themselves from burglars without prosecution?

Last week, Omar Roberts made headlines when he was cleared of murdering a knife-wielding burglar who broke into his house.

Despite acting in self-defense, Roberts insists he was treated like a dangerous and violent criminal by the justice system.

‘I would not wish this on anybody,’ he says. ‘But I would not change the fact that I confronted them. I was supposed to be there, the burglars were not.’

His ordeal has sparked debate over what the law says we can and can’t do to protect ourselves against intruders. At present, householders are permitted to use ‘reasonable’ force to defend their homes.

But the question is, how do we decide on the right amount of force? Where is the cut-off point? How far do you have to go before you stop getting treated like victims and start getting tried as criminals?

At present, the law says the person using the force must honesty believe that it was justified, and not excessive.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defense – you do not have to wait until you are physically attacked by the intruder.

But despite these guidelines, the topic of self-defence remains unclear and Roberts is fighting to have the law strengthened. He’s not alone. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, who believes only burglary victims who use ‘grossly disproportionate force’ should be prosecuted.

How would you react if you came face-to-face with an intruder? Is it possible to remain in a ‘reasonable’ state of mind when under attack, or is there a moral line we simply shoudln’t cross – regardless of the circumstances?

Whatever your beliefs, Marie Claire wants to hear form you by posting a comment below.


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